Saturday, November 7, 2009

Israel Urges Action Against I.R. Iran over Weapons Ship

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Israel called on Thursday for the international community to take action against Iran, blaming Tehran for dispatching a weapons-laden ship to the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the boat intercepted by the Israeli navy overnight Wednesday carried thousands of rockets "whose only aim is to hit civilians and kill as many civilians as possible." "That's a war crime that the UN General Assembly, which is meeting today, should investigate, discuss and prevent," Netanyahu said. The hawkish Israeli leader was seeking to link the capture of the ship to the UN body's debate on a contentious report that accused Israel and Palestinian militants of Gaza war crimes. Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the three-week-long Gaza war at the turn of the year, which Israel launched with the aim of halting Palestinian rocket attacks. Israel was also hit by thousands of rockets fired by Hezbollah during the 2006 war in Lebanon, and Netanyahu said the captured ship proved Iran was helping Hezbollah to prepare for another round of fighting. "This is what the international community should have been focused on, on all days and specifically today," Netanyahu said. "Instead, they have chosen to meet to condemn the IDF (Israeli military) and Israel in an attempt to undermine our legitimate right to self defence." The timing of the capture was seen as a major boost to Israeli efforts to rally international opposition to Iran and the Gaza report. "Officials in Jerusalem had not dared even to dream of better timing for the capture of the vessel carrying so much arms and ammunition bound for Hezbollah," an editorial in Israel's Maariv newspaper said. "The capture of the ship was, for Israel, like a gift from heaven." Israel said the ship was carrying "hundreds of tonnes" of weapons, including rockets, grenades and ammunition. A UN Security Council resolution which brought an end to the devastating 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel demanded the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon and imposed a ban on all arms exports to them.

Iran and Hezbollah have both denied any link to the ship. Israeli media reported the military tracked the containers from Iran to the Egyptian port of Damietta, where they were transferred onto the German-owned "Francop" vessel en route to Syria. Israel views Iran as its main strategic threat because of Tehran's support for Hezbollah and Palestinian militants, its leader's frequent predictions of the demise of the Jewish state and its nuclear enrichment programme. "We are going to expose everything we find on the ship," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP. "Iran has been caught red-handed breaching and violating Security Council resolution 1747, which prohibits any weapons exports from Iran." Israel, the region's sole if undeclared nuclear power, believes Iran's programme is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, charges denied by Tehran. The seized arms may help Israel to ramp up pressure on Iran to accept a deal brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency whereby it would send stocks of low-enriched uranium abroad for conversion into nuclear fuel. "Now the Iranians have been caught red-handed -- an Iranian company involved in the exporting of arms to Hezbollah as Western suspicions of Iran peak after Tehran's murky response to the compromise proposal on uranium enrichment," Israel's Haaretz newspaper said. Israel fought Hezbollah to a bloody 34-day stalemate in the summer of 2006 that killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. Israel has repeatedly accused Hezbollah of increasing its rocket arsenal and last month Israeli President Shimon Peres said Hezbollah was turning Lebanon into a "powderkeg." Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said in September his group did not want war but that if Israel attacked Lebanon it was ready to "destroy" the Israeli army.